Seana-marena, the pride and joy of the Basotho nation; once so covetously seen as the cultural emblem of Basotho has seen some major makeovers of late. It went from being a blanket to evolving into a fashion staple jacket made by African designers and most recently to becoming a global fashion piece after Louis Vuitton created a cashmere version of the seana-marena which rakes in around R33 000 per outfit.

For Basotho, the blanket is not just a fashion staple; but represents a cultural identity and symbolizes ethnicity. The history of the seana-marena can be traced as far back as the 1800s. The word ‘Seana-marena’ means to ‘swear by the chiefs’. It was love at first sight for the founder of the Basotho kingdom; King Moshoeshoe I, who was presented with the colourful, patterned blanket in 1860 by a Briton named Mr. Howel. The blanket was originally worn by the royals before it was extended to commoners. And that is how the love affair between Basotho and seana-marena began and they have been inseparable ever since.

The blanket became a Basotho token, which they would give to visitors as a representation that they had been to the mountain kingdom. Basotho could be seen proudly wearing the blanket as they went about their tasks. Even now, Basotho still cherish the blanket and wear it to important ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and christenings.
Seana-marena is available in over ten designs. There are many royal family inspired designs; the crocodile-inspired design for the Bakuena tribe of which is of the royal family, the mokorotlo (crown), corncobs and many other designs. There are new designs and colours always being introduced with the fashion- forward community in mind, and it is usually with consultation from the royal family. With time, Lesotho born, critically acclaimed designer such as Thabo Makhetha came out with new and fresh concepts to the Seana-marena brand. She incorporated millennial style inspired jackets, ponchos and cape from the seana-marena blanket. The collection was a big hit at fashion week and received critical acclaim from the fashion community. Makhetha’s designs have provided a great way for fashion-enthusiastic individuals to feel warm while expressing their modern tastes.

Local and international designers

Local and international designers

It was therefore no surprise that the likes of Louis Vuitton took notice of the blanket and recreated it in 2015 in their first seana-marena inspired blanket inspired collection. This year saw them going further and launching a cashmere and wool version, and premiered it as part of their 2017 Spring/Summer menswear collection. The range sold out in Louis Vuitton South Africa in both Johannesburg and Cape Town within no time. The Louis Vuitton design features a blue and yellow version of seana-marena with a maize cob and giraffe pattern.

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There were mixed feelings among Basotho and Africans as some feel that the French luxury brand is culturally appropriating a culturally significant item without including the most important people; Basotho in the decision making. What is undeniable is that Louis Vuitton is going to make mega millions from the business venture.

What is your view; is this cultural appreciation or appropriation?

By: Mantsebeng Maepe